As a burgeoning national field, bioastronautics is heavily embraced and cultivated by the CU research community. For Dr. Allie Anderson, new AES department faculty hire, bioastronautics and human spaceflight have held a lifelong allure:
“I have always been interested in human spaceflight. Since I learned what astronauts were in third grade, I’ve been hooked. I’ve basically been working towards this [research focus] my entire life.”
As an undergraduate at the University of Southern California, Dr. Anderson’s astronautics engineering education and time doing research gave her a fervor for “discovering things that have never been known before.” Her Ph.D. work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology involved the development of a wearable pressure sensing system for extravehicular activity (EVA) space suit applications. This monitor allowed astronaut movement and discomfort to be detected.
In regards to wearable technology, Anderson notes:
“There are so many different applications for wearable technologies in space. When we put an astronaut in a spacesuit, we are essentially putting them in the world’s smallest spacecraft that can support life. We want to provide astronauts with as much information as possible.”
Currently, Dr. Anderson is serving a two-year appointment as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Dartmouth College Geisel School of Medicine. She is investigating means of measuring changes of visual acuity in astronauts on long-duration missions. She notes:“We don’t have a good fundamental understanding of what causes eyes to be altered while in space. One hypothesis suggests that microgravity conditions lead to changes in intracranial pressure with the body’s fluid shift, putting pressure on the ocular globe [causing visual impairment].”
Dr. Anderson and her group are developing a noninvasive data collection technique for characterizing astronaut changes in intracranial pressure on-orbit. The technique employs “otoacoustic emissions” as a proxy measure for intracranial pressure; in essence, this method uses sound emissions from an individual’s ear to measure internal head pressure. Anderson explains:
“An increase in intracranial pressure means an increase in pressure of cerebral spinal fluid. This increase in spinal fluid pressure causes an increase in pressure of fluid in the inner ear, changing the environment and the way hair cells in the ear vibrate. This in turn changes how sound is emitted back out of the ear.”
Along with indirectly measuring astronaut intracranial pressure, this method could be used terrestrially on patients that suffer from traumatic brain injury or conditions such as intracranial hypertension.
Upon completion of her post-doctoral fellowship, Anderson will join the AES faculty in January 2017. She explains the draw of CU:
“CU has such an amazing, well-established program in bioastronautics. I knew that if I were lucky enough to be a professor there, I would get access to the best possible students. I’ve known Professor Klaus throughout my graduate school career and have heard about CU’s great atmosphere and community. With its top program in life support systems, CU really was a clear and ideal match.”
To catch of glimpse of Anderson's wearable pressure sensing system in action, check out the video below. Pressure data shows contact between the arm and the space suit to understand how the person is moving inside during motion. This provides a "window" inside the suit to help understand how injuries may occur inside the suit by evaluating peak pressures and sustained contact.